In selecting the particular breeds we’d be raising, I had both legitimate criteria—inherent sturdiness, some retention of natural instincts (so they were more capable of fending for themselves, given reasonable expectations, of course…not counting on them to fight off their own predators or establish a FOB or anything, just looking for animals willing to forage, and, generally, more likely to birth live young without complications), and able to cover more than one need (poultry which both lays admirably and grows into proper-sized table fare; sheep with very nice fleeces who also produce market lambs)-as well as the gut reaction of personal preference—liking their temperments and their appearances. I’ve also been accused of being a “Luddite” (at which point I had to curb my natural reaction, which was to take offense, and go look the definition up before discovering that yes, I AM one of those people who eyes new technological developments with equal parts suspicion and scorn). Not that I don’t like Velcro, and plumbing and Tetanus shots, and whatnot, but, moreso, that I find, whenever humans stretch Nature with a heavier hand…Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcom and his maxim of being so preoccupied whether we could that we never stopped to think if we should explains it pretty well. The more we Frankenstein the bodies of animals to suit our particular whims, the less healthy and functional they end up.
The need to protect genetic diversity is a serious thing, too. The people over at the Livestock Conservancy are my heroes for providing all the information and guiding light anyone could hope for, and they have a most phenomenal and comprehensive website! From there I could avail myself to books, and to loping through images and sites online before settling upon who was producing what I thought were the best looking specimens of those particular breeds. It bears mentioning that this was made ever so much more complicated by our family’s sanctions against using Facebook. Practically ALL of the farms and breeders in the universe are on Facebook, but my husband’s role in the Army long ago necessitated the elimination of his account, and then prohibition kind of trickled down throughout our family from there. How fortunate to find other means of seeing what people were raising and then reaching out to them (and asking them mounds of questions!! It STILL amazes me how very patient and kindly all of these people were/are to a stumbling novice, and I will be forever grateful).
Then, as with what is possibly too much of the basis for how I approach doing ANYTHING, I used what I know of dogs to guide me in purchasing our broodstock. I sought out those I viewed as the very best animals we could afford (much to my husband’s dismay), and became ridiculously lucky in securing transportation for them from afar, in spite of us not yet possessing a truck. (So that’s something I must recommend against, by the way, not owning a truck when starting a farm. Yep. This erroneous oversight has proven extremely rough on our Passat.. In fact, I would warn against a family failing to own a secondary vehicle of any kind, on the grounds of it making even basic tasks inordinately more complicated and difficult.) How incredible is it to tap into an entirely homemade network of people who SO love sheep or rabbits that they’re willing to take up extra animals and drive them across numerous state lines in order to get them to their new homes? Nobody charged beyond gas money, and everybody took it quite readily on faith that we were decent people who would hold up our ends of the bargain. This, in turn, gave credence to what my husband considered a maddening willingness of mine to trust people we didn’t really even know, and to pay them in advance for animals in spite of having only theoretical recourse. (The lot of any of the sellers was all the more precarious, though, because they were entrusting veritable strangers with animals they have brought up, and loved, and fretted over—animals created under the banners of their names, with all their reputations and credibility attached.) They took me at my word, and forgave me my lack of complete experience, and they consigned their precious animals to our care. They did all of this on a premise of honesty. Stretch that potentially-tenuous hold even further when Molly Baker never did receive that first check we sent her, yet still she specifically put her flat-out magnificent ram in with those three ewes I was trying to buy, so that they’d arrive in the suitable degree of pregnancy…by the grace of God everything worked out exactly as I’d dared to wish. As I am a consummate pessimist, I found the surprise that much more galvanizing. There really is no way for me to tell it that doesn’t sound like crappy, idealized, saccharine fiction, but there it is.